The Silver Linings of FailuresOct 10, 2023
Happy (day after) Thanksgiving.
To all my American readers, Thanksgiving is in October in Canada. It’s still the season of gratitude and turkey, just less football and no Black Friday mania (Thank God!!). I can’t think about Thanksgiving without focusing on gratitude. I thought I’d take the opportunity this week to share my gratitude list with a slight twist.
There’s a famous Garth Brooks song, “Unanswered Prayers,” that speaks to all the wants the songwriter had prayed for that never came, but, with perspective, how grateful he has become that his past wishes went unheeded. I think in life, we do find ourselves sometimes wanting something so badly and feeling crushed when we don’t achieve our goals. If we take a moment to reflect after the passage of time, we might realize that we have found ourselves right where we were meant to be.
This Thanksgiving, I thought I would share my top three failures I am grateful for- where closed doors led to new paths and success.
Door #1. Flunking out of university. When you’re 19 years old, it’s the end of the world to have failed out of university. In my mind, I had wasted money and disappointed my immigrant parents who had made so many sacrifices to come to Canada to give me a better life. I was filled with embarrassment and shame. I hid this failure from my parents and pretended to be at school while I was working at a McDonald’s in my university town. This was where my first struggles with self-confidence manifested.
It was the lowest of lows.
I needed to go back to school, but I decided to start all over. Instead of going to another large, public school, I tried a small, private school with a 14:1 professor-to-student ratio. There I got involved in student leadership, theatre, varsity athletics and learned about a whole new career field called Student Affairs that I never even knew existed. There’s no doubt in my mind that I am the high-performance leader I am today because of my rich and broad experiences at my small liberal arts school. It was because of the mentors, professors, and experiences I had. I am so grateful that this was where I landed.
Door #2. Being passed over for my dream job. The first time I applied for a head soccer coaching job, I was denied. What a kick in the gut! I was seen as too young, inexperienced, and without a proven track record. I was tempted to forget about coaching altogether. Instead, I volunteered as an assistant on another team. I buckled down, bought coaching education videos, read a bunch of coaching books and went to a coaching license course. After only one year of volunteering, I was in the right place at the right time when the head coach quit one week before season. Now, they had no choice. I was the last man standing. I knew they probably didn’t really want me and would launch a broader search at the end of the season, but I had a season to prove I was worthy. With my newfound knowledge and players who knew how dedicated I was, I turned that opportunity into a 14:1 record and our first-ever conference championship. I was named Conference Coach of the Year for my efforts. I stayed with that team for 10 years, and we went from the bottom of the cellar to the number one team in the country. I never felt like I worked a day in my life.
Door # 3. Being pushed out. A new president came to my university and started shrinking my department’s resources, ignoring the culture of athletics and minimizing the role of coaches. I remember going to see him, frustrated, and asking for clarity. He didn’t apologize for his actions. He clearly stated that athletics was not one of his priorities. I was tempted to be toxic (and probably was). I was angry. All of my hard work building a nationally ranked, high-performance program seemed to be taken for granted. I could easily have exemplified the law of the rotten apple, trying to tarnish everybody around me to rally against the new leadership.
I needed my wife to talk some sense into me. She reminded me, if we were no longer in the place where we belonged, we needed to move towards my greatness. This was about values and purpose alignment. I moved to a larger university in another country in an urban setting. Over the next ten years, I was lucky enough to recruit Olympic coaches, World Championship level coaches and athletes, renovate historic Maple Leaf Gardens and mentor under some of the most inspirational leaders in my career. I caught a rocket at my new university. It was life-transforming for me and my family. My confidence and skills grew with every new leadership opportunity.
I share these leadership lessons because there’s a whole bunch of goals and dreams some of you have had that didn’t work out. I imagine that many of you, like myself, have swung and missed. You gave your best effort and still ended up empty-handed. I want to assure you there’s something just around the corner that is your perfect fit.
Stay the course.
This doesn’t mean do nothing or repeat the same old. Expecting better results without innovating is not going to work. Invest in yourself. Whether it’s through professional development, acquiring a mentor or honing new skills, prepare yourself to be better than you were yesterday and keep putting yourself out there.
Every time I meet with a failure, I ask myself, “What am I here to learn?” Dust off your disappointment and get to the work of improving yourself for the next opportunity. The best is yet to come, my friends.